Celebrity Evangelists in Islam and American Christianity
Channel: Jonathan Brown
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Episode Transcript ©
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Today, first of all, welcome to the lead mental center for Muslim Christian understanding. And I think that we still have this new Georgetown has a new policy, which is that if you come in, it's not just us, Georgia, if you come into this room, or any other room where a presentation is happening, you are waiving, you're giving permission to be recorded in q&a. So if you ask used to be, you could ask a ridiculous question. Speaker could give an abusive answer. And none of this would be recorded. Now it will be recorded and may be presented on online or something
you can use we'll face the consequences.
with you Yes, you can. That's fine. So the Our speaker today, I'm very happy to have him here. I met Jim when I was when I went to teach at the University of Washington where he teaches, and I was there for years. And Jim
was my colleague and we met. Well, first when I went to interview but then when we were in Uzbekistan, you don't get to say this. Often I met Jim on the road from Tashkent to Samara con. That's where I met Jim. And we kind of shared her life story. Yeah, we long it was a long trip. He's the head of the master's program in religion. What is it?
That's it, I was on this program. But I can't remember what
the chair chair the comparative religion program in the Jackson School of International Relations, which is actually
as close I think, as any other school has do as equivalent as a facet man with these two programs are very similar. They both have giant departments that are actually schools. And so he's in the Jackson school International Relations at University of Washington. He's an associate professor there. And he did his full professor. Yeah. We have to adapt.
Wow, to merit that. See, that's great.
Okay, full professor, which is excellent. And he has written, he did his PhD at the Divinity School universe, Chicago. And he has written several books, one of them on, I think, mega churches in the Pacific Northwest. And one on a recent one on Robert Bell, very prominent American evangelical pastor, I guess you'd say. So I had the idea of coming and having him come and speak when I was in Seattle last year. And we were talking about kind of the similarities between Muslim or like you call them evangelists, and America, and Christian evangelists. And so we thought we'd talk about them at the same setting. So I won't waste any more time. And I'll just welcome Jim and have him
give this presentation. Great. Thanks, Jonathan.
Really, really happy to be here. And a couple of my former students are here. And it's really lovely to see them. And it's great to be at Georgetown. So I so what I'm going to do today is
give you a little sense, this Rob Bell, new American Christianity just came out. I'm right now working on high on God, how mega church has conquered America. And Pardon me.
And a part of what I'm going to talk about today is comes from the research I'm doing right now, on those mega churches. They're 12 National, mega churches. And and you can really argue now that mega churches are the way Americans are doing their religion. In fact, 50% of all Americans who go to church go to the top 10% largest churches in America. So this is a huge phenomena. Some say it's, it's slowing down. And but the the surveys show that it's not. And they're and they're continuing to grow in size, and in number. There's 1800 mega churches presently in in America. And they're they're really flourishing across the globe now. So this is really a this is the way america this is a way.
This is the way Christian the Christian church is going. Today, I'm just going to talk about charisma, whether it's positive or negative. What is the charismatic impulse, some examples? A few explanations and in a little bit of a case study on megachurch pastors. So does that sound good? You Are you guys ready to go?
I love this quote, irons block is one of the great Marxist philosophers of the 20th century and talked a great deal about utopia, and the impulse for utopia. And in reading him, and in thinking about megachurches, I thought that's it. Do you mind if I close this door? Yeah, go ahead. Sorry.
For any problem, yep. And, and I thought this quote, I thought was was was beautiful. And that says, the path leads via the little waking dreams, the strong ones via the wavering dreams that can be abused to the rigorous ones, via shifting castles in the air to the one thing that is outstanding and need for the final will, is to be truly present so that the lived moment belongs to us and we to it, and stay a while it could be said of it.
So here, here it is. man wants at last to enter the here and now as himself, wants to enter his full life without postponement and distance. So there's a sense, I think there's a real sense in which megachurches, and I'll give you a quote from one of our mega church members, this is what the megachurch member said, I cannot wait to go back to my mega church because it is like a drug. And I can't wait for the next hit. Okay. And what we found in in these 1000 or so interviews is an enormous passion and joy, and a sense that people are finally finding who they truly are. So this really is an explosion of ecstatic joy that people find in these mega churches.
So where does this come from? How does this get constructed? And and I think what Jonathan and I are going to talk about a little bit about his charismatic leadership, and and how does charisma get constructed? as anybody seen this movie tomorrow? Oh, my gosh. Okay, everybody has an as homework, go home. Rent commodity yet, you guys haven't seen Charles? Oh, my gosh, I mean, you gotta say it. He is a new jersey born
man, American who is of Indian descent, obviously. And he wants to do films. And he realizes that people are attracted to Yogi's and yoga gurus in America. And then he gets the idea, all become a guru.
And I'll film my transformation into a guru. And I'll show how guru ship works. And that's exactly what this movie is about. And it's very disturbing.
Because literally, people begin to follow him. commodity is totally made up. His yoga moves are completely fabrications. His philosophy is just a little bit of self help.
Rick, you've got to, and you have people literally coming to him as if he's a Shri, a guru and, and bowing to him and saying to him, I cannot believe you've come into my house.
everything, the whole thing is made up. It is it is shocking. At first I thought, oh my god, this is terrible. Because it you know, it's full on manipulation. But he's, this is really interesting. His main point is that everyone can be their own guru. I am a fake. And because he says that, they all find him very sincere.
Are you sorry, anyway, you got to see the movie. Okay, next one. Ha. This is my friend Rob Bell, who's become a best selling author. started a mega church. On day one had 1000 members coming on on in a year and a half, he had 10,000 people coming to his mega church. Okay, now I wanted to,
I want to I want to show you what a charismatic personality looks like and how they
try clicking the
Microsoft Store icon. Yeah, here we go. Here we go.
At the very beginning of
your book, titled, what we talk about when we talk about God.
This is not the charismatic figure, we want to hear you talk to us about what you talk about. When you talk about God. This is Rob bell.
What's going on? How you doing? How far can I walk into the crowd before that thing starts making that high pitch sound makes me have to put my lightsaber away.
I can come this far. Excellent. We're now Where are you? are you people? Where are you from? You from here? Nashville.
Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama,
didn't come to Florida just for this. You did?
All right. That's really inspiring or kind of stalkerish.
We'll talk about that a little bit. All right.
Wow. All right.
Well, it's great to be with you. My name is Rob and I live in California, which is to the left. And
I met my wife,
freshman year, first or second week of school on a tennis court in college. We were both at
the same. And we've been married for 18 years. And it's just amazing. And I have a 14 year old son, who is a rapper.
And I have a 12 year old son who is a skater. And then I have a three year old daughter who is a princess. I actually think she's a princess. Like there's some sort of developmental stage where you haven't yet got irony. So you're like, no serious, and I'm a princess, and you just sort of
excellent, whatever you like. And
so I write books, and make films and come to Nashville. And the third thing I do with my life, I visit Nashville. And in that order, and
I have a new book out called what we talked about, we talked about God a couple of years ago, my fifth book was called love wins. And that came out this week in aversion for like junior high and high school students, we got to shape them early.
And then, my friend Carlton, he wrote and produced a show called Lost lost fans. And he and I are developing a show. And it's really amazing. It's coming along. And hopefully in the next little while, you'll get to see what we've been cooking on. If you sort of take last and you take some of the work I've done with sermons and books and films and live events and QA you put on a blender and throw in a little media, some TED Talks, Peter Rollins, maybe some Letterman and some Coverity put in the blender. Hopefully, it's not the thing that we're working on. And we're really, really excited about it. And then most importantly, I try to serve every day. And I have not served today,
because I've been in Nashville, so I started twitching tremors in the fall, because my deals are drying up.
So that's a bit about me. And then there's you and so I'd like to talk a bit to you about God. And we'll see where that takes us. And I kind of know where we're headed. I kind of don't and that's when it gets interesting.
And then maybe we'll take some time for questions at the end and then we'll see where that takes. Okay
how do I get this back to
click this thing here?
I don't know how to use this thing.
Oh, you know what, go to the top.
From the get from current slide, left side.
current slide. Alright. So yeah, that's Rob bell.
So you know, kind of, yeah, that's not a great example of charisma. But it's it's it's he's got it all going on. And we'll talk about that.
Power of charisma. Lame Hongzhi. Does anybody recognize him? The founder of Falun Gong,
and, and really a movement within China, which, of course in 1999, China kicked him out and tried to stop it. And and really, it became that big of a movement that China, the China, Chinese government was very concerned about it.
And here he is an American, US mathematical statistician, talking about Hongzhi undeniably masterly has supernatural powers, but he doesn't show them he doesn't display them. He has gotten them, he has gotten permission, put that word into quotes from the higher world to do what he does, you cannot do with that without permission, you would be killed. The fact that he has been able to do this shows that he has support from above. Okay, so this this is
Kind of the construction of the charismatic figure, charismatic authority, of course, developed initially by Max vabre. And the three ingredients that you'll always find within charismatic figure is a display of his exceptional abilities. Usually, they have kind of a sense of humor and rhetorical ability, and ability to just display and also to get intention, the abilities of thought to that is to be that is said to be divinely inspired. And there is a bond, there's a charismatic bond.
And so these features of charismatic figures are always there. And the construction of the charismatic figure is a bond, you can't be charismatic unless you have a following. And that that is that is really essential. So no one is a charismatic figure on their own, it is always in relationship to a group or audience.
And kind of the sociological context for charismatic, that for the charismatic bond is really critical.
First, and, and, and this is interesting, because Rob Bell started his church in 1999. And it really got going 2001. And one of the events, of course, in 2001, was 911. And so there was great stress in the culture and in the society. And he became deeply empathic with that stress with that controversy, without conflict. And that that is what a charismatic bond is built on a sense in which the leader understands the situation of the culture, and in some sense, in understanding it, has solved it themselves, has solved it themselves. There's a way and think about charismatic figures in your own life. And you'll, you'll think, to yourself, they understand the problems and the issues I
am dealing with.
And in some form or another, you get the sense that they have solved, that they have reached a conclusion, that is something that you can go along with.
And once they once you get that feeling, the feeling within you. I've seen followers of charismatic figures. And I was telling Jonathan, literally, when they come into the presence of the charismatic figure, their faces change, they, they become more alive, they feel like
And so so that so there's a felt sense of lack in social circumstance, and a deep sense that the leader understands that science has solved the problem, and really begins to act as a as a proxy.
Now, there's, there's some psychological work that has been done to explain the charismatic mind. And, you know, I'm not a psychologist, but I'm more of a sociologist. But there's something to this. That is when followers come into the presence of the one who has solved their problems, there's a sense of fulfillment.
And I was telling Jonathan, this to the other day, Rob bell has become a friend of mine. Okay, and so he came to Seattle, gave a book reading, we sat down, had breakfast, and he was telling me about his television show. And it was a two hour conversation, and he's the kind of guy that that you want to listen to. He's telling me a plot of a new book that he just thought of. And he's and he's going on and on about that. And he's asking me a few questions. Although charismatic leaders really liked the attention on themselves. And right at the end of our breakfast together, he takes the scarf, it starts to wrap around his neck. Okay, just like that. And right in front of my eyes, and I don't
know what was going on here. But I suddenly said to myself, Oh, my gosh, he is a Hollywood figure.
And he seemed to kind of transform right in front of me.
So was it me? Or was it him?
Was it me, or was it him?
Okay, so this bond, this relationship is very powerful. And I think many academicians have been incredibly suspicious of it for good reason, right?
But of course, accurate dimensions, sometimes they're charismatic figures themselves, and use that charisma for their own needs and wants and desires. So it's kind of sketchy sometimes. What's also interesting is the study of charisma is not very well developed. And the study now is really kind of sunk into new religious movement leaders. what are called cults
And so most of the charismatic studies are done on destructive fingers or, or people that everyone thinks is a fraud.
But what I what I'm trying to do with this megachurch study is to say, no charisma is everywhere. charisma is everywhere, and it has positive ingredients within it.
And and here is one of those a nice quote by Leno's, and he wrote a book that's in the 1990s. But I think it's an excellent book called prophetic charisma. And he's and he says, it can be said that the great work and that that this great work involves a creative process by which followers use the charismatic relationship with the leader and the rest of the group, to test themselves transcend themselves, and experience love, the discipline, sacrifice of the self to the will of the leader, and the group is an instrumental part of this request. That's interesting. So I think there's charismatic bonds and charismatic relationships going on all the time in our lives, with mentors,
with political figures, with religious figures, and can be intensely creative. But it also can be dangerous. And we I'm sure, we'll talk about that.
This is, you know, this is a
one at one of the one of the best, I think,
the clearest of current charismatic, bond and also interactive, Rachel changes, random colons. And what he says is any group gathering, takes on or can take on a collective effervescence. And leaders evoke and harness this emotional energy. And symbols are poured in to create the group identity. And, and people then desire to repeat. Okay. One of the things that you find in studying mega churches is that there's an intense emotional energy within these worship services. And, and I'll give you an example, I was down at a church in in, in San Diego called Rock Church, miles MacPherson, ex NFL player, African American man, very kind of an intensely handsome man, and a great
speaker, and I'm down there to, you know, basically do research. And I'm writing notes, and I'm sitting through four of his services, and they're all each one of them is the same. They're beautiful services about 3000 people, 4000 people at service, and there's an altar call, okay, there's an altar call. And in the third service, I'm sitting there writing notes, and it's in the middle of the altar call. And I literally feel my body. Literally, same to to, to me, I'm going forward.
I'm literally having an out of body experience of my body saying, We are walking down to the altar.
And, and so I am literally going like this.
Are you saying
and so, you know, kind of being a good trying to be a good sociologist, I said, No, we are not walking down to the altar. And I sort of call this energy back into my head and it stopped.
And I didn't know that was going to happen. So that emotional energy of a charismatic leader is very real. It's very real, it's empirically real. Okay, um, charismatic leaders are these energy stars. That's too long. That's, I don't I don't want to do that. Yeah.
Okay, so two mega churches. My study on mega churches is to study kind of normal charisma Is there such a thing as normal charisma? And what would normal charisma not called leaders, you know, but kind of normal charisma that may be positive and creative and helpful to people. And so that's that's what I'm doing with this, you know, charismatic leaders in new religious movements or cults. And I don't really like to call them cults, but some people do. These leaders tend to be the voice of God. They will say, Jim Jones and others will say I am the voice of God institutionalized religion.
These leaders will say their instrument of God's will in the world. And that's what a megachurch pastor says. Right. So that so you know, a distinction might be messianic charismatic leaders like Jim Jones,
have the power to do this. Do you all remember this 1000 people commit suicide at his command.
And if you go online, you can hear him speaking, as they are killing themselves and their children. And it's very dramatic. He's clearly a charismatic leader.
prophetic leadership, who's who is an instrument of God's of God's will? Right? Billy Graham, I think is a great example. I was telling Jonathan, if you see Billy Graham early in his career, he's an intensely handsome guy. And he's incredibly dynamic. As a speaker. Yeah, I guess he got older, he got kind of blessed in that dynamic. But here it is. So he's not leaving them into suicide and into conversion. All right.
What I find with megachurch pastors, in the comments about pastors is that they say this, they say this kind of thing. He's no different than you and I. That's what we love about it. So that data set comes from 12, nationally, Representative mega churches, 283 leaders, lay leaders and new members.
And 270 references to leadership qualities of the pastor. And here they are the senior pastor, and they'll read these, these are quotes by mega church members. The senior pastor is a walking reincarnation of Christ.
Just he, he'd walk up to you and just shake your hand and put his arm around you, not knowing him. And all of a sudden, Jesus was just like, overflowing out of this guy's pores. You don't get that in any other church.
Like to me, he had this special anointing over him, which has created a special anointing of the church. So I just said, I had to be a part of it. So in some sense, they feel these, these pastors are, are incredibly exceptional. Another said, because he's human and edge will stick out sometimes. And he steps back and he submits to the Lord. And that just really Garner's a lot of respect from us. He's very self aware of how he's wired. And his limitation. He even asked us to pray for him about certain things that he's working through.
And then another set I mean, the senior pastors named from the pulpit will say, I cheated on an exam, I got caught. And my fiance found out and I confronted me. I mean, he's not hiding. He's not trying to be like, I'm the perfect pastor. And if you're like me, you can go to heaven. He's just saying, you know, what, I messed up, up this week or whatever.
Then Then another said, he makes sure though, that he tells us all the time, like, look at this, how much he loves us, one of the, in doing my research on Rob bell.
I listened to 100 sermons and transcribed them in in one sermon. He he was it was early in his career. He says this to his, he says this to 330 430 500 people he says this. Hello, my best friends.
Hello, my best friend's
senior pastor is God's mouthpiece. And when your mouthpiece goes forward with such passion, you can feel his heart, it goes for there's so much energy, it's hard to see somebody with, with every ounce of who they are pour out that much and you walk away. What happens is spiritual transformation, you can't see somebody just pouring out with every fiber of their being and not be affected.
Okay, so these charismatic, charismatic leadership negative or positive, is a negative or positive.
And, and Jonathan and I are going to talk about that.
My sense, you know, and this is kind of early in my thinking of this, is that the negative is when a pastor is not transparent
and manipulates for their own benefits and keeps all the power for themselves. And, and the examples I'm giving here, kind of the obvious ones ted haggard, do you all know this one? No, this pastor he was a Colorado mega church pastor, up until I think 2006 or 2007.
He was he was the president of the National Association of evangelical churches. It was said that he was on the telephone on Mondays with George W. Bush every Monday, giving him spiritual advice.
But in the midst of his ministry, he was going to see a misuse
in Denver, and a male misses and you know, was more than massage, and it was found out and and he had to step down. Jimmy Swaggart, probably one of my favorite megachurch pastors. So do you guys remember him from the past? Oh, my gosh, he was he was very dynamic. Did he get caught twice? Yeah.
he repented. And this is this is a picture of Henry petty.
This is a picture of him repenting of his sex with a prostitute. But he couldn't stop himself.
You just kept going back. But I looked it up. He started a ministry.
He's like 80 years old. He looks pretty good still. And here's Jimmy Baker. Tammy Baker is my favorite Jimmy's pretty good too.
But of course, Jimmy got caught with his secretary, embezzling funds.
Tammy goes on to be kind of a celebrity of her own, became becomes kind of a favorite of the gay culture in the 1980s and 90s, which is kind of weird, but interesting. And Jimmy Baker's got to show again, he's got no hair, but he's going to show again, so he went to prison. And, and he came back, so it happens, but and here, the this last slide, positive, perhaps they're more transparent, offering transformation, transformed lives and principles for transformation, empower others. Here's Rick Warren.
You know, I have many students at sea in Seattle, at the University of Washington who've, you know, been a part of this church and they're very dynamic, healthy people. Bill Hybels, Willow Creek Association has built up a ministry in Chicago, which many people think is a wonderful
church. And Joel Osteen. Has anybody listen to Joel olsteen? Raise your hand.
All right. You know, He's, uh, he's, he's the classic prosperity gospel minister. And as I was saying to Jonathan, that, he's just not that bright.
But it fits well, because he gives very simple sermons. And he basically says this.
Any any sorry, but my wife likes them and likes to listen to a sermon because it makes her feel good and gives her hope. He starts every sermon with a joke.
And everybody laughs and, and then he has a little ritual with his Bible. And then he says, you know, I'm going to basically give you some feedback for positive tips of how you can be successful in life. And then he says, I know a lot of you think this won't work.
And then he goes to show how it works in four different examples. And it's as simple as that it's a very, it's a formulaic
process. That really, really works. So is that bad or good?
Yeah, anyway, so that's it. Um, Jonathan, you want to?
Yeah, I mean, that's, uh, I was maybe I should find a clip to play.
Although, I'd have to probably have to think of
So this is just, I'm just gonna pick some random clip.
this the, this is an American Muslim scholar who's a convert to Islam, originally from Greek, mostly Greek kind of immigrant background. His name's Hamza Yusuf. I, I'm
even more than Jim. I'm, you know, I have to say I've, I'm friends with him. And he's, I have a lot of respect for him as a, he's a co founder of one of the first Muslim college in the United States. So I have I have a lot of respect for him. But so I don't whatever. I have no idea what I'm going to pick. We'll just have to hope that it's not bad.
If it is, then I apologize.
I would not now like to invite one of the most respected scholars of our generation Shia Hamza Yusuf.
A lot of what occurred to
when I was a novela, Iranian out in 100.
Allah bless this gathering and give us the angelic presence in Shaolin keep our hearts united. I shall talk about a few things. The one of them is a about a hadith that is related scope, according to the IDT Shaheen.
So we have a different worldview, and we have to incorporate this worldview constantly in how we view things
Is that we believe that we live in a benevolent universe. We believe in a right Nana Rahim. All of the Quranic sutras begin with this meal, nyah Rahmani Raheem. And so we believe that Allah is Rama, and that he sent his prophet as a rock.
In the rock metal, mean, we sent you as a mercy to all the world, we believe he was a mercy to the Christians he was. Okay. So that's just a short example of misuse of speaking. I think actually when one of the most interesting things about
and, and you can see different actually set different streams of oratory coming together, you can see African American, Muslim, whatever you think about Malcolm X speaking, it seems kind of channeling Malcolm X in a way, and also the way that
Muslim scholars in places like Egypt will speak with hands and gestures like this, and like that very specific kind of way of moving hands that is
does not come from American tradition. I see my old professor, Dr.
Dawn of Islamic philosophy. Great to have him here. So I was when I was in Egypt. Last year, I just was on walking on the street, and I found this book and one of the side sidewalk book stalls. It's called do i do often mentor preachers who have an exile teachers, and so
it's a kind of a hatchet job on a set of very popular.
It's called Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Yeah, it's a I would say, preacher, evangelist is another good, good, good word. But it's people who are calling people to Islam. And that one, when I say that, you think that it means calling into non Muslims to Islam, but really, you're calling Muslims to be more Muslim, to better practice better guidance. But that's the same word they would be used for calling non Muslims to become Muslim. So I'll just call them preachers. And that I think, evangelist is very good translation as well.
So the just a brief history, I'll focus on Egypt, because it's very kind of concentrated example. And in this in the Arab world, kind of is the center of this sort of activity,
even if the people are not from Egypt, but there's also features in other Muslim countries, especially Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, have kind of rich tradition of evangelists. The if you, we look back, and let's say to the, to the early part of the 20th century, you don't really have separate class of Muslims who are preachers. So the people who are effective preachers who get big audiences are Muslim scholars. And for those of you who don't have background here, you can think of like a rabbi is a very good example Muslim scholars, like a rabbi is their their religious figure in the sense that they play a role in their main job is studying religion. But they're, they're a
scholar, not a priest or a minister, their primary job is to
kind of learn process and then put out sacred knowledge about God's law, the Sharia about the right way to be Muslim, the correct way to live as a Muslim and obey God. So that sort of that when I say Muslim scholars, that's what I'm talking about, to the Muslim scholars who happen to be very good speakers and happen to get audiences. So if you look at let's say, Egypt in the 1970s and 1980s, you have figures like had that Hamid Kish, how shall we, who are their clerics, their religious scholars, who just happened to develop or kind of attract huge audiences at their mosques, where they serve as moms or later just in the case of went to law, the shadow he, he went on TV, he was
the Minister of religious endowments in Egypt. He was invited on TV for a show one time he did a really great job and then he kept going and he was probably the most beloved preacher in Egypt and you have a weekly show about the Quran and daily life
of the honey was much very different. He was very political. During the days of Sadat, and Mubarak in the 70s, and 80s, he would give sermons that were directly challenging kind of the status quo and easy
If the powers that be, he had gigantic audiences at his mosque, you could not get into his mosque on Friday unless you went there after the dawn prayer and just stayed there all day. The buildings around the mosque became nothing but audience areas for his sermons. Eventually he was banned in a strong preaching. He was put under house arrest. He was also tortured. By the way like many Muslim scholars, politically active Muslim scholars in the 20th century were tortured in prison under Sadat under Mubarak. He was political, which was a shout out he was not political, he was decided the committed Lee apolitical never talks about politics, which is of course, a political decision has
political ramifications. So keep his popularity and his ability to continue preaching on television was, in a way predicated on not being a threat to the established elites, and government system in Egypt.
He died in the late 90s. And a lot of this generation of these very big scholars who were religious scholars who found that they were also charismatic speakers. They died in the late 1990s. And what happened in the mid 1990s, until really 2010 2011, is a phenomenon that is often referred to as a Dr. Judah, or the new preachers, new generation of preachers. These these were different because most of them were not
religious scholars in the sense that they had been through measures of training, they had graduated from seminary, or they hadn't been through the Sharia training class fishery training would give someone the right to call themselves a month. One of the other not one of them was some scholarly class. They were laypeople who had acquired some Islamic knowledge, and were excellent at presenting. And they did so through first by speaking in local mosques. Then by a lot of times, getting satellite television shows on a new satellite television, television channels like dream TV, like AR T and the Arab world,
Al Jazeera in some cases, and also through selling books, selling tapes,
and eventually online stuff. So they were, they did not wear the kind of robes of an LSR scholar, which would be a long black gown with a red turban fez, with a white turban wrapped around it. They wore suits and ties to show they were part of the normal person.
And their kind of their message was a word.
We're speaking as a Muslim to a Muslim showing how Islam is lived in daily life.
what are some of the characteristics of these new preachers?
They're not political.
They are decided they are not political. Now, this is, you know, this is a very interesting problem. Because if you lived in Egypt until 2011, right, they're the one that there are two kinds of overwhelming realities in life. One is poverty and corruption. So corruption caused by poverty or sorry, poverty caused by corruption, incredibly corrupt, economic, political system that rewards that sort of crony capitalist, that rewards people who are close to dictatorial regime. And just dispossessed is basically the rest of society, who's forced to scrounge to survive. That's one route. The second reality is that dictatorial pictorial system which cannot be challenged, which
cannot even be close to challenge, which cannot be hinted at, in a challenging way.
So, the new preachers only speak outside of those areas.
And I at least felt, you know, listening to them that there is always, you know, it's like a giant, what is the elephant in the room or gorilla in the room, whatever the big animal in the room is using this metaphor, that it's there and it's always present.
what did that meant? He meant that they talked about spiritual issues. How do you kind of embody or manifest Islamic values, Islamic character in your day
Learn how to you how to be inspired by God and the Prophet Muhammad how to be inspired by the example of the early Muslims, how to deal with social challenges like
a lot of times encouraging women to wear a headscarf, encouraging men not to you know, have girlfriends things like that. It's how do you deal with social issues like this. And another
characteristic was charisma,
charisma and Islamic idiom, you charisma can be talked about in several ways. One of them is the idea of Baraka Baraka, you may recognize a word from Barack Obama. So botica is, means blessedness or have you it's almost like the some one scholar has the stuff of faith. It's it's like a glow halo around somebody, but it sort of is communicated by touch, you can be near it, you can feel it. It's like an aroma coming off them. But a guy is blessedness it's, it's channeling the
sacred stuff of God and the Prophet. And that just marks you.
Now, with these lay preachers, some of them are decidedly they're presenting themselves as non bedika bearers. They're not saints, they're not Sufi mystics. They're just a regular guy. But clearly bata guys part of their appeal.
There also their appeal is as as Jim said, they have solved a problem. They don't say this, but what what there's, there is no, I don't want to get into commercial transactions to to overtly, but they're selling a product and that product is, I'm going to tell you how to understand your religion in a way that's authentic and real and make sense in this world today, and it's going to solve the big problem. What is the big problem?
for Muslims? How do I, how do I believe that my religion is the correct religion? And how do I know how to follow it correctly? When the world is based on the idea that one religion is passe and stupid, and to Islam as a terrible religion as violent and awful, and three, that
in my own society,
I'm really unable to have any power.
So I don't have any agency.
My civilization is looked down upon religion is looked down upon in general. And yeah, I'm supposed to feel like what I'm doing is true and right. And what the preacher who's successful I think convinces the audience is that that preacher is really somehow gotten. they've understood the real Islam.
That's going to save Muslims today that that, and that has a huge appeal. And I don't think that's, I'm not trying to say that's manipulative or dishonest or disingenuous. I don't think that is, but I think that's what people are looking for.
In in these creatures, even if they don't know that's what they're looking for. That's what convinces them.
And not that you can't remove this from the context of
Islam versus the West, colonized versus colonizer or you know, Imperial victim versus imperialist force is all part of that equation.
what I think is
what's very interesting is that since the day the Arab Spring started, you haven't heard about any of these guys.
I would, I would, unless someone disagrees with me. People who were studied as the region or from the region, I would contend it until before the Arab Spring, these figures were in the media a lot. They're very, very prominent.
I'll give you some examples of Egypt, America, that
stuff, oh, establishment stuff. I forgot his last name and stuff. A Hosni i think is his name.
I was on his CTV show on his pilot,
which is really weird. I didn't realize that till much later. And
another one who's a kind of a different figure, a Yemeni scholar named have evaluated Jeffrey.
And so you need to be worried in the media a lot, a lot of attention and not just in the, you know, Arab media, but in the Western media. And the second Arab Spring have been you don't hear about them anymore.
I think one of the reasons is that they had
thrived by speaking in these spaces around the giant object that no one could talk about, suddenly, you can talk about that object. And people are getting in real debates about how society should be structured about how the future political social future of the country should be built, and they're no longer really relevant.
And suddenly, real issues have been opened up. I don't think that means that what they were doing before is, is false or was an illusion or anything, I simply think that the world in which they thrived, had ceased to its main features had been obliterated.
what are some of the, when you talk about, you know, positives or negatives, this, I just use this book, which was really interesting, because he's just such a perfect example of a guy who is just deeply, deeply suspicious of religious authorities, who's deeply suspicious of the caught commodification of religion. So one of the things you'll often hear when people are critical of these preachers is that they've commodified religion,
that they are selling things that they're and that they're getting rich off.
But they're, they're benefiting, you know, they, they're grant turn themselves into a brand, and they sell themselves. And they're using religion to do that. Now, some of them, for example, the Indonesian preacher, Abdullah, Jimmy str, he's very open about that he's almost on a sort of explicit gospel of prosperity, where he says, Look how much money I have. But look at what I'm worth, you know, this is because of my faith,
you can do that too.
Others are always insisting that they're actually not making any money, that they don't accept any money that they don't, this is all good, you know, charitable actions, they're doing it for the sake of God alone.
And then later, you know, it's found out that they have X amount of money in some bank account or y job with a certain company, and that they're hobnobbing with all these rich people. And so you have the kind of the same drama, drama, or maybe
a dramatic arc of the preacher who is torn down, or the fallen idol, whose romantic life is uncovered, you know, he has a second wife, or he's having an affair, or, you know, he's
take sexual advantage of people who are followers followers, and that person falls or that they're actually rich, and that they're
become a greedy person who's not pious anymore, and then that person falls. So that's part of the arc. It's a setup for these people by one by themselves and two, by their critics. Now, that gets to, I think, in
the big crux of the issue for me, which is,
there's always the hope.
creates the appeal of every new creature
appears is that they're the real deal. They're like, they're digital, they're true, that they're not selling something
that they really are, they really have figured out the answers to life problems, they really are going to teach it authentically. And they're not going to disgrace themselves.
And the problem is, how do you know if that's the case? How do you know if this person's and other
you know, will be a fallen idol is a fraud? Or is this person really someone that I trust, I want to follow that I want to allow it to have influenced me.
when I was doing in when I was in graduate school, and would go into summers to Egypt, it was right, starting in 2001. It was actually exactly around the time that these figures were really getting pages. And I remember into the summer of 2000, or spring of 2002, going to Egypt, and all my friends in Egypt had gotten involved with Mr. Khalid, and in his production company for AR t which is a big satellite channel owned by a Saudi businessman.
And they were all working for on these different TV shows, indeed, from their free time because they believed they really were devotees of morality. And the women who hadn't wearing headscarves at all started wearing headscarves, they all become much more pious and use I remember feeling really this kind of electric excitement amongst these people about how this was really Egypt was really becoming more pious because the people that
I'm gonna highlight was later
bought that no one really knows what happened did I know him but he left Egypt? And the question is was he expelled by the Mubarak regime? Did he leave on his own? I don't really know the answer. But
I think what happened to this is, remember, this group of people is not our hub, but was the producer involved.
turned out to have married a second woman who was one of the women working on this project. And of course, everything just unraveled from there and spun out of control. And now and I, when I go in, I meet my friends, there's still good practicing Muslims, the women, a lot of Muslims still wear the headscarf. But there's that you sort of see, it's almost like you, you're seeing members of a rock band, you know, after a
blow bloated after, you know, someone brought their wife on the SAT or something like that. I mean, like the Beatles or something, it just you see these kind of people who are now older and wiser and a bit more jaded. And not I think because of they, they're disappointed in our morality, because they're sort of disappointed in this side of this project.
fell victim to the same things that human relationships always falling into.
Now, I would,
and here I really have to kind of
disclose all my, my feelings on the issue, which so have you evaluated Jeffrey, who's another mentioned in the Yemeni scholar, he was, I mean, he was so popular in Egypt in the early 2000s. He's still very popular all over the Muslim world. And he comes from his family comes from this valley in Yemen called the Hudson Valley, which is the sort of
origin and seed of this
Sufi order called the valley or alluvia Sufi order, which is spread throughout the Indian ocean basin. So all the way in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Yemen, and he
never went to college, he just studied Islamic Lee, through the kind of classical tradition of Islamic education. And in the early 2000s, he became, I'm not really sure how this happened. But he came to Egypt and started appearing in audiences with wealthy businessmen. What you see a lot of them with these preachers is that actors and actresses will go to them and become their followers and actresses will, you know, give up appearing in romantic movies and start wearing a headscarf and the actors will start only doing Islamic Islamic Lee appropriate work. So there's, they have a strong appeal amongst the elite, both business evade and the kind of media elite, and then have you
it would appear on satellite TV channels, and would go travel around the world. But he would still be based out of Tony and hadramaut, where he would teach some of the time at the metro. So there, and then also, he would teach in Abu Dhabi.
So I got to know how to do it,
you know, as kind of randomly as someone who was invited to some events that where he was, and I got to know him over the years, and end up spending a significant amount of time with him on the road, and interviewed him and other places in Egypt in Abu Dhabi. And I have to say, I don't, you know, I don't want to be accused of being naive or something. And I certainly don't think anybody's perfect. Nobody's infallible. Certainly everybody's not infallible. But I have to say, I don't
I, you know, this, there's lots of stuff in this book about hanging out with all these rich people and who's paying for these trips and things like that. But he always says, you know, my, his family is well off. His family owns a lot of land. And he, you know, if he gets invited somewhere, they pay for his airline ticket, and they put him in a hotel, like, you know, professors will keep you up to speed places. But he doesn't. I mean, I've traveled with him and lots of different places. And he always has his entourage with him, not of lackeys, but on people who are his
driver and assistants and his friends and students. And they'll all stay in the same hotel rooms, and they'll all eat the same food. And in light of places that food is not I mean, I remember places in Yemen, were just, you know, rice and chicken and styrofoam container. That was it. And, you know, he sleeps and doesn't sometimes doesn't even sleep in his own room to throw the people in the same room. And, you know, in terms of his romantic life, you know, he has, well, depending on when mean he has two to four wives.
And he just has to be open about that. And yes, it's his right as a Muslim man to do that. So if he's not, he isn't married.
in secret, and then people find out about everything. He says, you know, yeah, I have two boys.
So I think in a way that that transparency is, I mean, for me, it's always made me feel more comfortable around him. And I respect him a lot. As a scholar, I respect him a lot.
As an as
someone says, Okay, I thought I heard. So I mean, I respect him a lot as just a
good exam exemplar of how Muslims should act. And I certainly don't think i think the mistake would be to,
to think that he's perfect and not susceptible to sins or mistakes, but I don't, I've never seen anything from him that would ever say that you can claim. And I remember, he's, he said to me several times, you know, I said, so many times, I've thought of just leaving Dallas, leaving this calling mission. And just going back to what, and I remember there was times where I mean, it would be the guy has an endless energy, I mean, you, he seeks only a few hours, if you want to travel with him, you're not asleep.
And he remember, he was about two in the morning, we were at his house and to the note was in Abu Dhabi. And he said, how's your gas level, like you're busy,
to your energy level.
And I'm really tired, because we've been sitting there
looking at the death gates of scholars trying to figure out when certain his Muslim scholars in the past a die. And
he loved that I remember the Emmys thinking this is I think this is what he would really like to do is to be a scholar. And
he wants to you know, he, I think he often asked himself, you know, should I drop this and go back to scholarship. And, you know, one of the things you say is the media is corrupting. The media is a terrible, terrible business, it's a terrible world to be in, you don't get into it. And the untainted, they will destroy you. crush you twist, you are a monster. And I think that that's always on his mind.
I, I think as long as somebody is aware of that, and doesn't let it happen to them, or not too much, I suppose that's the most I can ask.
you know, it's interesting, you know, we, I, you know, when I talked about this kind of this
desire for being here now, and, and the way you're describing this, this person is a person who's very electric, has enormous energy is an ENERGY STAR.
That is, I mean, it's all the classic trace of what a charismatic figure does. And and it's interesting, because you're kind of rationalizing and defending your interest and, and your relationship to them. Which, which is interesting.
Interesting, but, you know, and I, but I kind of felt that way with when I was with Rob Bell, and I, and I kept thinking to myself, what's wrong with this guy? Is there something wrong with him? Should I not like him? And then I found myself going, No, I really like him. I want to be his friend. Is that right? You know, and all that kind of feeling. And, and, and a lot of people said, is he is he corrupt? Is he a fake? Is he a fraud, and I saw him with his family loves his family, loves his wife loves his three kids, he, he takes care of them. He started a mega church that did more good than any church I've ever seen. Do both for the poor and for for those who are on the margins.
What's bad about it, and then a lot of people would would criticize it. And I'd say, What have you done? Yeah, tell me about your life. People love to hate as they say, I mean, so yeah, I guess what I'm saying is that, you know, I, I really don't think charismatic figures are bad, necessarily, by any means. I think they're, they're very powerful.
They're social movement figures. One of the interesting things about, you know, this issue of someone authentic is, you know, is someone performing it? Are they performing a role?
Are they faking it? And so the interesting thing about the the Balawi Sufi order is that and superiores, in general, isn't there. So, you have to try and imitate the Prophet. And you do that consciously. You don't. I mean, it's not like you, you sort of breathe in some sort of faith gas and then you just act like the Prophet. You let me take the profit by imitating you sleep on the side that he slept on. You eat the way you drink, the way he drank, you smile, because smiling is the problem with smile, smiling is the act of charity.
The way you speak like the Prophet spoke and
That's all a performance. But the idea is, and this is very Aristotelian, I mean, you perform it enough, then you become that. Yeah. So a lot of times, I'll see like heavy body speaking. And you can see he's performing. But he's performing not as I think a media star he's performing as I want to act like a prophet, I'm going to smile. I'm always going to smile, smile, smile, smile.
I'm always going to say the things that Prophet said Moy is going to answer questions where the Prophet answered questions, and someone could say, Oh, he's just playing that part of a pious person. But that's what he does in his own life. For example, one of the the Sunnah, that kind of recommended things that Prophet did that Muslims don't have to do is he would wear a hat or a turban. And in the valley Sufi order, it's considered kind of disgraceful to have to not have a turban, or how to have. And no, I mean, nobody's seen Have you Valley, without his hair, Head Head covered. I remember it was really early one morning in Yemen, and he had come from the shower, and
he was put his clothes on. And I went into his his room in this house where we were saying, and he, he took one hat off, he took it, he took the hat off brushes here and immediately put this other hat back on, no one was there, it was just me and him. But he did not want to have his head uncovered for a second, except to just to brush his hair.
And that means what is that? Is he doing that performing? For me? Is he I think that's actually how he thinks all the time. That's what a charismatic figure does, though.
You're, you're describing exactly what occurred medic finger does, he performs
in all the appropriate ways, and he knows how to get attention. And, and, and he's gotten your attention. And, and, and you're spending a lot of time describing it. And just like I did with the scrub belfair, you know, in terms of Christianity, it's like, how do you imitate Jesus?
Because, you know, Jesus sort of, didn't have a very successful career
wasn't a long lasting career. And I thought about in terms of Islami, there's, there's kind of an advantage to your prophet.
he actually lived a normal life that you could, I mean, I think that's, that's one of the difference. You don't have obviously, if you're found with a, you know, a gay prostitute doing crystal meth to them, that's probably not any good for Muslim preacher. But I mean, if you have four wives, you know, people might say, a lot of parts of the Muslim world, it's not socially acceptable to have more than one one in Egypt, it's really not acceptable to have more than one wife, at least in Cairo. But, you know, in Yemen, this is fine. So, you know, he doesn't like it that kind of takes away one of the if you if you have four wives, and you still have energy and sanitation. And you
know, you're still gonna fall victim to some groupie, you have a lot of energy. And that's maybe, but that's rare. I mean, it said it is I think that a lot of
I think he's immune to some of those temptations because of the tradition he comes from, which is different than a tradition that is, maybe one could generalize as being more anxious about sexual
Christian work. Yeah. I don't want to I mean, I would, as a generalization, maybe it's an accurate one. Well, I mean, one of the interesting things is that these charismatic figures and Christian figures, you almost always find sexual
problems, because there's excess energy, like what you're describing, and that has to go somewhere. Yeah.
You know, again, the advantage of
Muslim is that, that you can have four wives. I mean, that's very helpful if you're highly energetic person makes
anniversary planning harder.
So I don't want to take up too too much time for people who have comments, questions, answers, otherwise